Confusing Times for Japan's Asbestos Victims
Hours before the Japanese Diet enacted improvements to asbestos compensation schemes,1 the Osaka High Court snatched 430 million yen ($4.6m) away from asbestos plaintiffs.2 The shock verdict announced yesterday (August 25, 2011) reversed a 2010 ruling handed down by Judge Yoshihiro Konishi in the Osaka District Court which had found the Government negligent for failing to provide people with the appropriate information concerning asbestos and the health risks linked to it Konishi awarded substantial compensation to ex-textile workers who had been exposed to asbestos between 1939 and 2005.
The latest developments in the quest for justice by 32 former asbestos factory workers, members of the public and grieving family members from Osaka Prefecture are detailed in the pages of the ruling by Presiding Judge Jun Miura who, whilst acknowledging the Government's failure to implement sufficient long-term risk-management measures to prevent the damage to health from asbestos exposure,3 decided that as some measures had been taken to protect workers, the claimants were not entitled to compensation from the Government. This reversal was a huge blow to the Osaka victims who in the aftermath of the proceedings on August 25 mounted a public protest outside the Court; the banner they held aloft Unfair Ruling, made their views clear. The Osaka High Court's findings are bad news for asbestos victims throughout Japan whose lawsuits have remained pending until the outcome of this case was known. This decision will be appealed to the Supreme Court.
It is not unduly cynical to suggest that the timing of the Osaka High Court's pro-government ruling is related to the legislation enacted this week in Tokyo extending government support for asbestos victims. This view is reinforced by a statement made to the Diet by Environmental Minister Satsuki Eda. Commenting on Miura's judgment, Eda deflected attention from the injustice to the victims by reiterating the Government's intention to continue making utmost efforts to prevent the spread of asbestos during the demolition of buildings and help the victims of asbestos-linked health hazards. It seems that when it comes to justice for asbestos victims, what the Japanese authorities give with one hand can be taken away with the other.
August 26, 2011
1 Kazan-Allen L. Support for Japan's Asbestos Victims. August 23, 2011
2 The claimants in the lawsuit initiated in 2006 had been seeking 940 million yen in damages from the Government.
3 High court revokes lower court decision on asbestos exposure. August 26, 2011.